Dimas soars into history on horizontal bar Value of 1 U.S. gold outweighs Scherbo's 6

August 03, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- The American has one gold medal. The Belarussian has six.

The American will appear on "The Today Show" this morning, and, if everything breaks right, could become one of the Wheaties cover boys. The Belarussian is going home to a country where cereal is a luxury and the future is as uncertain as the next harvest.

Last night, Trent Dimas of Albuquerque, N.M., and Vitaly Scherbo of Minsk soared higher than all the rest in the men's gymnastics apparatus finals at the 1992 Olympics.

Dimas received a gold medal in the horizontal bar, becoming the first American male in a non-boycotted Olympics to win an individual gymnastics title since 1932.

Scherbo of the Unified Team collected golds in the vault, rings, pommel horse and parallel bars and ended the Games with six overall. The 20-year-old son of acrobats who also took a team and all-around title, became the most decorated Olympic men's gymnast in history, falling just one short of swimmer Mark Spitz's seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games.

"If Vitaly Scherbo were an American, he would be the next Michael Jordan," said U.S. gymnast Jair Lynch of Washington.

"He flies like Michael and he has a little cockiness in him," Lynch said. "It's great, because he can back it."

If Scherbo is Jordan, then Dimas is the kid next door, the little 5-year-old who tumbled in the driveway and discovered a career. Except for the year he spent at the University of Nebraska, Dimas has been coached for 16 years by one man, Ed Burch. The gruff coach with the firm handshake and the dark-haired 21-year-old have come a long way together.

But Dimas also had to endure financial hardship to get to the top of a medal platform.

Only a year ago, his mother, Bonnie, and father, Ted, a contractor, ran out of cash, and couldn't send him to a competition. So Burch paid for the airline tickets and the hotel bills and the father built a tumbling pit for his son and the coach.

"My parents worked like dogs for this," Dimas said. "Without them, I wouldn't have won.

"My father worked 16-hour days so he could get the money to keep us in gymnastics and travel to compete. I thought about it all day. I was so nervous, so scared."

His moment to perform came 'round midnight, after a week of so many American knockdowns you'd swear a boxing match had broken out. But in the individual finals, the American "Now Boys" performed with grace and courage.

Lynch left his sick bed with a 102-degree fever and scored a 9.712 to finish sixth in the parallel bars. Chris Waller, from UCLA, was fifth in the pommel horse with a 9.825.

Then came Dimas, told over and over by his coach to "relax," mounting the high bar and flying like a trapeze artist. He performed a Kovacs, releasing his grip, flipping backward 1 1/2 times, and then recatching the bar. And he ended the night with a triple somersault dismount, hitting the mat so softly and beautifully that the gold was his.

Dimas didn't even wait for the score of 9.875 to flash, rushing off the platform and leaping into Burch's arms. Dimas cried and Burch said, "I felt like I was in never-never land."

"I wanted to throw Frisbees around the room," Dimas said. "I never expected to be here at the Olympics. I never expected to be in the final. I never expected any of this."

The arena was nearly empty when Dimas finally got up to the medal platform, and stood teary-eyed, singing while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played and the American flag rose. Burch pumped his fists, and the other American gymnasts were laughing. Some were even crying.

It has been a long time since the American men had something to shout about. Go back to 1984 and the Los Angeles Games, when the Soviets stayed home and the American men won the team title and Bart Conner and Peter Vidmar took individual golds.

But this was different. Dimas' gold came against the best in the world, on a night when Li Xiaosahuang of China did a four-revolution backward somersault to close out a winning floor exercise routine, and when Scherbo gave the sport a moment to remember, four golds for an ex-Soviet turned patriot of Belarus.

Scherbo wore the familiar hammer-and-sickle on the front of his uniform, because he didn't have an emblem from his republic. But his heart belonged in Minsk.

"I don't really know yet how the future will unfold for me," he said. "But I will always compete under my banner -- Belarus."

The future is uncertain for Dimas, too. He could become a post-Olympic star. Just look what happened after he won his gold: Twenty women chased him down a corridor, asking for his autograph, taking his picture.

One gold for an American could lead to wealth. Six golds for a Belarussian could lead to a pocketful of hard currency.

"I won't be able to make as much money with the six gold medals as his one," Scherbo said. "What can you advertise in the ex-Soviet Union? There is nothing to advertise."

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